It is easy for Christians to lose focus in our present, politically charged atmosphere. This series, first published in September 2016, is a timely reminder of where our passions and longings should be ultimately directed. –ed.
Do you know anyone who is not worried about the future? Maybe they’re afraid of contracting the Zika virus, or cancer, or any of the other diseases dominating headlines these days. Perhaps they’re bracing for another global financial crisis, or the next terrorist attack. Or maybe they’re just caught up in concerns over the coming election, and what it means for the future.
No matter where you look, there is reason to be concerned about the state of the world today, and what tomorrow holds.
But should those concerns dominate in the hearts of believers? Should God’s people be worried about the ills of this world and how to fix them? Or do our affections and energies belong elsewhere?
I find it alarming how easy it is for believers—myself included—to be caught up in the cares of this world and to follow the worrying, fearful pattern of unbelievers. Whether it’s a financial meltdown, a shocking wave of violence, or a contentious election cycle, God’s people ought to be able to look past today’s bad news—as well as any threats on the horizon—and take comfort in the fact that our hope is not bound to the circumstances of this world.
In short, we need to remember that this world is not our home. As John MacArthur explains in his book The Glory of Heaven, losing sight of that blessed truth is why Christians are so easily and often distracted by earthly issues.
Rather than setting our affections on things above, we tend to become attached to the things of this earth. It’s all too easy to become absorbed in temporal matters and neglect what is eternally important. . . .
Sadly, having lost sight of the “sweet by and by,” too many Christians busy themselves with the harried here and now, and they themselves are consumed by consumable things.  John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 64-65.
The church’s dangerous preoccupation with the world and its affairs often manifests itself in one of two ways.
The Futility of Political Activism
Many believers channel their fears about the future into political activism, attempting in vain to “redeem the culture.” As John MacArthur points out, that is not the work the Lord has set us aside for in this world.
God simply is not calling us to wage a culture war that would seek to transform our countries into “Christian nations.” To devote all, or even most, of our time, energy, money, and strategy to putting a façade of morality on the world or the appearance of “rightness” over our governmental and political institutions is to badly misunderstand our roles as Christians in a spiritually lost world.  John MacArthur, Why Government Can’t Save You (Nashville: Word, 2000), 13.
Put simply, the “culture” is unredeemable. The work of God’s kingdom is not about transforming governments, rewriting laws, or rebuilding society into some kind of Christian utopia. None of those supposed solutions does anything to address the problem of sin or the need for a Savior.
Political remedies to our nation’s moral ills are no cure for the underlying spiritual problems. Of all people, Christians ought to know that, and the preponderance of our efforts ought to be focused on proclaiming the truth that can genuinely set people free.
Lives, not just laws, need to be transformed before America will be in a position to ask for and expect God’s blessing. The blessings of God cannot be acquired by any legislative process. Law cannot make people righteous. Scripture is clear on this. “If righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21). No one is justified by works of law, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16). And saving faith is an individual matter; it cannot be imposed by legislative force.
In other words, society as a whole cannot be delivered from moral bankruptcy unless individual lives are redeemed and transformed by the power of Christ. If that conviction does not frame the priorities of the people of God and drive the activities of the church on earth, asking God to bless America is a waste of time.  John MacArthur, Can God Bless America? (Nashville, W Publishing Group, 2002), x-xi.
Moreover, there’s a real danger when believers mistake the culture—and not the sin that corrupts it—as their enemy. As John MacArthur warns, the church consumed by political activism can easily lose sight of its mission field.
When the church takes a stance that emphasizes political activism and social moralizing, it always diverts energy and resources away from evangelization. Such an antagonistic position toward the established secular culture invariably leads believers to feel hostile not only to unsaved government leaders with whom they disagree, but also antagonistic toward the unsaved residents of that culture—neighbors and fellow citizens they ought to love, pray for, and share the gospel with. To me it is unthinkable that we become enemies of the very people we seek to win to Christ, our potential brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Why Government Can’t Save You, 14.
The Emptiness of Materialism
Another way the church—and individual believers—manifests its preoccupation with the world is through materialism. Unlike political activism, materialism isn’t necessarily born out of concerns for the future or disgust with the state of this world. In fact, it’s often the product of a blithe disregard for just how wicked and corrupt this world is, and how its pleasures are fleeting at best.
In that sense, it presents a much more passive threat, as Christians take their eyes off of heaven and become consumed by the here and now. In The Glory of Heaven, John MacArthur describes the insidious danger of materialism:
We are in danger of becoming so comfortable in this life that we forget we are but strangers and pilgrims in this world. Like Abraham, we’re supposed to think of ourselves as vagabonds here on earth, “looking for a city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). . . .
We spend our energies consuming and accumulating things that may promise fulfillment or enjoyment right now but “perish with use” (Colossians 2:22). Jesus reminds us that all earthly things—along with any pleasure they bring—will decay and pass away (Matthew 6:19; Luke 12:20; 18:22). That’s why we’re commanded to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where they can never be destroyed or pass away.  The Glory of Heaven, 64-65.
He goes on to explain that materialism has taken such a hold in the church today that it’s openly promoted from the pulpit.
Worse, certain high-profile media ministries, preaching a false gospel of earthly prosperity, give multitudes the disastrous impression that this is what Christianity is all about. They promise people that Jesus wants them healthy, wealthy, and successful in this life. Such teaching is extremely popular because it caters to the spirit of the age—particularly the desire to have everything in this life, right now. People influenced by prosperity preachers tend to think of heaven as the ultimate fulfillment of every material craving. For those with such a view, even the command to “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1) becomes a justification for carnal covetousness.  The Glory of Heaven, 65.
You wouldn’t think such charlatans would gain much traction in a world so familiar with suffering, hardship, violence, and grief. And yet prosperity preachers have become the face of the church in many parts of the world. Therefore, God’s people must all the more on guard against the threat of materialism and the dangers of falling in love with the world and its pleasures.
No matter how it manifests itself, a preoccupation with this world is a significant threat to believers. Here’s how John MacArthur describes it:
Because the church doesn’t really have heaven on its mind, Christians tend to be self-indulgent, self-centered, weak, and materialistic. Our present comforts consume too much of our thoughts, and if we’re not careful, we end up entertaining wrong fantasies about heaven—or thinking very little of heaven at all.  The Glory of Heaven, 65.
Cultivating a Christian perspective—one that rightly appraises both the cares of this world and its pleasures—starts with fixing our eyes on heaven. And in the days ahead, that’s what we aim to do.
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